WiP updates

A torch against a dark background

I spent the last week or so updat­ing the out­line to “Praise the Torch When ´Tis Burned” (work­ing title, but I’m pret­ty attached to it). I got to the end—a final con­fronta­tion between The Drag­on and the ship’s-queen—and real­ized I did­n’t know exact­ly how I want­ed it to end.

Today, wash­ing dish­es, I had an inter­est­ing insight that might solve my prob­lem. In the first draft, the sto­ry was told as a con­fes­sion to an unnamed 3rd par­ty. As I start­ed the 2nd draft, I dis­card­ed that idea; it did­n’t work, mechan­i­cal­ly. But I still liked the idea of the sto­ry-as-con­fes­sion, and now, I think I might have a way to bring it back in.

Also, as the idea unfold­ed in my head (while my hands were warm and soapy), it expand­ed my under­stand­ing of the ship’s-queen and The Dragon.

This could work. (I mean, it could back­fire, too; but it could work.)


The title, for those that a) don’t know and b) would like to, is tak­en from a stan­za in Hávamál, or The Say­ings of Odin:

At evening praise the day, the torch when ´tis burned,
the blade when ´tis tested, the maid when she is married,
the ice when ´tis crossed, the ale when ´tis drunk. 

…rough­ly. (Depend­ing on the translation.)

This is also the source of one of my favourite say­ings: “Praise ice when over it.” It’s a very win­try ver­sion, in my mind, of “don’t count your chick­ens till they hatch”.


Pho­to by Igor Lep­ilin on Unsplash.

Awards Eligibility 2021

Milky Way closeup

I had two sto­ries appear in mar­kets in 2021.

First up, in the spring, my super-short sto­ry “The Atlas” appeared in Cloud Lake, Vol­ume Two. “The Atlas” is 325 words long, and fea­tures an erased nation, a hunt­ing knife, and a bot­tle of absinthe, among oth­er delights.

Jen­nifer said her great-to-the-nth-grand­moth­er came from Untille. The coun­try, erased in some primeval war, exist­ed now only in folk­lore. On the atlas page it bor­dered Iraq, Uqbar, Syria.

—“The Atlas”

And then, in the fall, my sto­ry “Sum­mer­time in the Void” appeared in Alter­nate Plains (ie, the sequel to Par­al­lel Prairies). It’s got vari­coloured pills, theft, con­fes­sions, road trips, ghosts, and an answer to “What hap­pens if the Rap­ture (or the Sin­gu­lar­i­ty) does­n’t want you?” (And yes, if you’re won­der­ing, I absolute­ly stole the title from the I Moth­er Earth song.)

The upside-down sun glared down on him from a cloud­less blue sky. He’d tried explain­ing once to a friend what the sun looked like when it was upside-down. It had­n’t gone well. The best he’d man­aged to come up with was “You’ll know it when you see it.”

—“Sum­mer­time in the Void”

See you in 2022!

Inspiration is where you find it

fountain pen on notepad

We’ve been enjoy­ing the episodes of Richard Ayoad­e’s show Trav­el Man that CBC has been play­ing. If you haven’t seen it, the premise is this: Richard and anoth­er British celebri­ty trav­el to a touristy des­ti­na­tion for a hol­i­day week­end, take in the sights, do the tours, and make mer­ry. The humour is high-brow, rapid-fire, and often more than a lit­tle meta. (eg: in this past week’s episode, Ayoade points out that “this show’s lack of suc­cess is pred­i­cat­ed on edit­ing based on slights” (trust me, in con­text, that’s hilarious)).

This week’s episode saw R. A. joined in Dubrovnik by one Stephen Mer­chant. They enjoyed oys­ters on the seashore, went on a tour that crossed mud-bog­ging in a dune bug­gy with pos­si­ble death by land­mine (“We’re not sure,” the tour guide explained, as they explored a WWII-era for­ti­fi­ca­tion, “that all the mines have been removed”), and took anoth­er tour of the loca­tions where Game of Thrones filmed.

It tran­spired that nei­ther come­di­an has actu­al­ly seen an episode of Game of Thrones, but that did­n’t seem to slow the guide down at all. Stephen Mer­chant point­ed out that he enjoys see­ing film loca­tions, even if he has­n’t seen the film.

I laughed. Then I thought, That’d be an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter quirk for one of my char­ac­ters; specif­i­cal­ly, one of the wiz­ards in “The Slow Apoc­a­lypse”. Ha ha, I thought, that could be a cute throw­away line. You’d rather see the loca­tions where they filmed Lau­rence of Ara­bia that actu­al­ly watch Lau­rence of Arabia.

But then I thought about it a bit more, and… I think it might actu­al­ly be a per­fect insight into his char­ac­ter. He’s got a tal­ent for cut­ting straight to the hid­den truth of things. A pref­er­ence for real­i­ty over arti­fice would slot very nice­ly into that personality.

In fact, on my way to the gro­cery store, I envi­sioned a new scene, a flash­back: he’s dat­ing the woman who will lat­er be his wife. They go to a movie about King Arthur. He’s so very irri­tat­ed by the false­hoods, the bla­tant mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions, that he has to leave the the­atre for a while. (He’s immor­tal, or near­ly so; he was there, in Eng­land, at the time, and most of what he’s see­ing is bull­shit. Some oth­er city—Prague, Dubrovnik—standing in for the Lon­don of the day. And it’s so ear­ly in the rela­tion­ship that he can’t tell her the truth, the why, of his reac­tion. Maybe it’s their first actu­al fight—I’m still mulling the scene. Work­shop­ping it here, in fact, so if you’ve got com­ments on it, let me know.)

Alternate Plains reviewed

Cover of Alternate Plains

Alter­nate Plains has been reviewed by Joanne Kel­ly in the Win­nipeg Free Press. She gave the anthol­o­gy a thumbs-up:

The 12 sto­ries will give you, in most cas­es, the creeps and a few good jump frights, while also offer­ing some chal­leng­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing visions of life on the Prairies — now and in the future.

My sto­ry, “Sum­mer­time in the Void”, got a spe­cif­ic men­tion, which makes me happy.

Sto­ries such as Sum­mer­time in the Void are great book-club fodder¹.

In it, Patrick Johan­neson cre­ates a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic vision where almost all of human­i­ty tran­scends to the after­life, but God has left a few peo­ple behind: 4,229,000 peo­ple, to be exact. When the main char­ac­ter demands to know why, God tells him: “Your mind, John. It’s mis­shapen. Its scent is wrong. It’s coloured out­side the lines… your thoughts, your emo­tions, are too far diver­gent from the rest of the peo­ple. You live too far out­side the norm.”

You can get Alter­nate Plains at fin­er book­stores every­where, includ­ing McNal­ly Robin­son, and appar­ent­ly there’s a copy in Coles in the Bran­don Shop­per’s Mall (at least there was last time I checked online).


¹ In that vein, for any­one who’s already read the sto­ry, I have a cou­ple book-club ques­tions to ponder:

  1. Is “Saul” spelled cor­rect­ly? Why or why not?
  2. How long does the action in the sto­ry actu­al­ly last?

Writing Retreat 2021, day 6

Blue sky with a few clouds above the road and the railroad

On Fri­day, I:

  • Con­tin­ued out­lin­ing “Praise The Torch”
  • Did some update work on my grant application
  • Read more Zero His­to­ry—I think I’m just about halfway through now
  • Went for a bike ride—not a long one, but I climbed a lot of hills and got a few photos
  • Watched a few more Fire­fly episodes

I decid­ed that, even though the sky was clear, I’d stay in and not keep myself awake past 2 am again. I was in bed read­ing by 11 and asleep before mid­night, and I think that was the right decision.

And now I’m going to start pack­ing up the cab­in. My time here draws short. As always, I’m feel­ing con­flict­ing emo­tions: I’ll be hap­py to be home, but I’d love anoth­er week doing this kind of thing too.

Vaca­tions: They’re Nev­er Long Enough.

Series: Writing Retreat 2021

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2021, Day Zero; Writ­ing Retreat, Day One; Writ­ing Retreat, day 2; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 3; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 4; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 5; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 6.

Writing Retreat 2021, day 5

Milky Way and Perseid

Thurs­day, I:

  • Worked some more on “The Slow Apoc­a­lypse” (minor edits in sev­er­al sec­tions, and a new chap­ter in the “What we will lose the fire” sequence, excerpt­ed below)
  • Also worked on the “Praise the Torch” outline—I feel like I’m get­ting close to endgame, but I keep going back and adding things in so they’ll pay off later
  • Watched a truck try to maneu­ver a new cab­in into the cab­in area (even­tu­al­ly they did it, though they had to trim a cou­ple ever­greens back)
  • Drove back out to Spruces for some more Milky Way pho­tos (it was calmer, and I got to lis­ten to the waves on the shore and the occa­sion­al loon)

Jane had fall­en asleep. No, that was too gen­tle a term for it. Jane had col­lapsed into uncon­scious­ness, and soft snores, well-earned, came from her bed. Night had fall­en, out­side, and Mímir paced slow­ly back and forth in front of the win­dow, look­ing out onto a view of parked cars under a light dust­ing of snow, six sto­ries below, the lot illu­mi­nat­ed by great lights, bright white fringed in vio­let, on tall, thin met­al poles. The boy slept against his shoul­der, wrapped in a white-and-blue hos­pi­tal sheet of napped cot­ton fleece.

Mímir won­dered what his dreams might be, if they would even make sense to any­one not a newborn.

From “The Slow Apocalypse”

The two images above were tak­en with my 50mm lens, which results in a much tighter shot than the 1114mm that I usu­al­ly use for night pho­tog­ra­phy. Both the images above are com­pos­ites; the one with the trees is 2 shots merged into one (you can prob­a­bly see the seam), and the oth­er is a stack of 6 images, man­u­al­ly merged, to try to bring out the detail in a seg­ment of the galaxy.

The image at the top is one of about 200, the only one where I caught a Per­seid mete­or in the frame. (I did see quite a few last night, about a dozen or so, includ­ing three very bright ones. I think the one in the pho­to is one of the ear­li­er ones, and I remem­ber think­ing after it had burned up, I hope I got that on cam­era.)

Series: Writing Retreat 2021

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2021, Day Zero; Writ­ing Retreat, Day One; Writ­ing Retreat, day 2; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 3; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 4; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 5; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 6.

Writing Retreat 2021, day 4

Close-up: meteor burning up in the sky

On Wednes­day, I:

  • Rewrote a scene in “The Slow Apocalypse”
  • Got lunch to go from the local cof­feeshop with my friend Tim, who’s on his way home from camp­ing at Wasagaming
  • Con­tin­ued out­lin­ing for “Praise the Torch”
  • Went for a bike ride (it was pret­ty windy, but at least it was at my back on the way back to the cabin)
  • Drove to a side road off Moun­tain Road and watched for Perseids

I saw about six or eight mete­ors with the naked eye, and caught a few small ones and one longer one with my cam­era. I was on the side road in the dark for about an hour. Maybe I was too ear­ly for the 4060/hour that the web­sites claimed you’d see on the peak night of the mete­or shower.

Long shot of a meteor burning up in the skyStar Trails

Series: Writing Retreat 2021

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2021, Day Zero; Writ­ing Retreat, Day One; Writ­ing Retreat, day 2; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 3; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 4; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 5; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 6.

Writing Retreat 2021, day 3

The Milky Way at Spruces in Riding Mountain National Park

Tues­day, I:

  • Wrote more in the out­line for “Praise the Torch”
  • Went for a bike ride (it was cool when I start­ed, but warmed up as the sun came out)
  • Read about a dozen chap­ters in William Gib­son’s Zero His­to­ry—it’s been a long time since I read it, so it’s pret­ty much like read­ing it again for the first time
  • Reworked a chap­ter in “The Slow Apoc­a­lypse” and made minor changes in a few oth­er places
  • Watched some Fire­fly
  • Met up with my friend Tim (who was camp­ing at Wasagam­ing) at Spruces for some very dark sky pho­tos (it’s been a long time since I saw the Milky Way so promi­nent to the naked eye)

I saw a cou­ple of mete­ors at Spruces, includ­ing one large, slow one that unfor­tu­nate­ly was­n’t where my cam­era was aimed.

Series: Writing Retreat 2021

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2021, Day Zero; Writ­ing Retreat, Day One; Writ­ing Retreat, day 2; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 3; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 4; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 5; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 6.

Writing Retreat, day 2

A water drop glistening on a telephone wire during a rainfall

I woke up think­ing I heard hail. It turned out to be only rain—at times heavy rain—but almost every cab­in around here has a met­al roof, which ampli­fies that kind of thing.

No bike ride and no kayak trip. I wise­ly for­got to pack a rain­coat for my retreat here, so that was great plan­ning on my part.

  • More devel­op­ment on the “Praise the Torch When ‘Tis Burned” outline—the sto­ry is firm­ing up in my mind, at least, and that’s a good feeling
  • Rewrote the bulk of a scene between the POV wiz­ard and his lawyer wife, sip­pin’ Welsh whiskey in a restau­rant called Swansea, in “The Slow Apocalypse”
  • Watched a cou­ple episodes of Fire­fly
  • Tried to get some pho­tos of the rain; the only one I liked is above (it’s been a while since I saw water bead­ing on a tele­phone line)

Some of the thun­der was pret­ty exciting—shake-the-cabin exciting—but I could­n’t get a good angle to set up and try to get some light­ning pho­tos. Oh well, can’t win every time.

Series: Writing Retreat 2021

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2021, Day Zero; Writ­ing Retreat, Day One; Writ­ing Retreat, day 2; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 3; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 4; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 5; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 6.